The Obsession Page 61

“And you?”

He pulled the takeout from the oven, where he’d kept it warm. “I hit trade school, worked here, picked up some gigs. Some with Lelo when he realized he wasn’t going to get the girls, and couldn’t play worth crap when he was stoned.”

She thought of the wall of books, looked over at it again. “No college for you?”

“Hated school. Trade school, that was different. But regular school. They tell you what to learn, what to read, so I opted out, learned from Hobart, learned from trade school, took some business classes.”

“Business classes.”

“If you’re going to have your own, you have to know how to run a business.”

He divided the salad from the take-out box in the fridge into two bowls, transferred the eggplant parm to plates, and added the breadsticks the pizzeria was locally famous for.

“This actually looks great.” She sat, and smiled when Xander pulled a rawhide bone out of a cupboard. “Smart.”

“It’ll keep him busy. What was your first picture? You had to have a first.”

“We had a long weekend in the Hamptons—friends of my uncles. I’d never seen the ocean, and oh God, it was so amazing. Just amazing. Seth let me use his little point-and-shoot Canon, and I took rolls and rolls of film. And that was that. What was the first song you learned to play? You had to have a first.”

“It’s embarrassing. ‘I’m a Believer.’ The Monkees,” he added.

“Oh, sure. Really? It’s catchy, but doesn’t seem your style.”

“I liked the riff, you know . . .” He diddled it out. “I wanted to figure out how to play it. Kevin’s mom used to play old records all the time, and that one kept circling around. His dad had an old acoustic guitar, and I worked on it until I could more or less play it. Saved up, bought a secondhand Gibson.”

“The one in the bedroom?”

“Yeah. I keep it handy. I figured out, by the time I was fifteen, that if you had a guitar and could even pretend to play it, you got the girls. How’s the parm?”

“You were right. It’s really good. So you got the girls, being as you can more than pretend to play, but none of them stuck?”

“Jenny might have.”

“Jenny?” She set down her fork. “Jenny-Jenny?”

“Jenny Walker back then, and I saw her first. New girl in school, just moved up from Olympia, and pretty as a butterscotch sundae. I asked her out before Kevin. Kissed her first, too.”

“Is that so?”

“It’s Keaton/Banner history. I was about half in love with her, but he was all the way in love with her.”

“And there’s bros before hos.”

Grinning, he picked up a breadstick. “You said it, I didn’t. I ended up playing Cyrano to his Christian, finally got his guts up to ask her out. And that, as we’ve said, is that. I’m still half in love with her.”

“Me, too. And the package along with it. They’re like central casting called for a great-looking, all-American family, dog included. If you’re waiting for another Jenny, you’re going to be out of luck. I’m pretty sure she’s one of a kind.”

“I’ve got my eye on a tall, complicated blonde.”

She knew it, wished hearing it didn’t set off those flutters low in the belly. “It’s not smart to aim for the complicated.”

“Simple’s usually surface anyway, and wears off. Then the complications are annoying instead of interesting. You’ve got my interest, Naomi.”

“I’m aware.” She watched him as she ate. “Nine times out of ten I’d rather be alone than with anyone.”

“You’re here now.”

“I’m twenty-nine, and I’ve managed to evade, avoid, and slip around any sort of serious relationship.”

“Me, too. Except I’ve got three years on you.”

“Since I left New York six years ago, I haven’t stayed in any one place over three months.”

“You’ve got me there. I’ve lived here all my life. But I have to repeat myself, you’re here now.”

“And right now, this feels like my place. Things start up with you, screw up with you, it affects that.”

“I don’t know how you manage life with that sunny, optimistic nature of yours.”

She smiled. “It’s a burden.”

Knowing the risk, he pushed a bit deeper. “Ordinarily I’d assume you had some crappy relationship or marriage behind you. But that’s not it. You’ve got a solid family under you, and that’s foundation.”

She nudged her plate away. “Think of it as internal wiring.”

“No. I’m good with wiring. You’ve got enough self-confidence and sense of self-worth to punch an asshole, to head off on your own to go after what you wanted. You’re complicated, Naomi, and that’s interesting. But you’re not wired wrong.”

She rose, took both their plates to the counter. “There was a boy who loved me—or thought he did the way you can at twenty. I slept with him, and studied with him, worked with him. When he told me he loved me, asked me to live with him, I broke it off. Right then and there. It was hard for us both to get through the rest of college. Easier for me, no doubt, because I didn’t have those feelings for him. So I could just walk away.”

“But you remember him.”

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